Voices on Violence arose as a response to the Mother’s Day shootings in New Orleans that injured 20 people. Comprised of conversations with a diverse group of residents, the series explores why and how people live here, how they assess risk, and what specific things they believe can help change the cycle of violence in New Orleans. Today, Eleanor Keller writes her own words. The interviews will appear daily this week at NolaVie, as well as on air at 4:45 p.m. on WWNO radio, 89.9 FM, the local NPR affiliate. Please join the conversation; send commentary, responses and interview suggestions to email@example.com.
What in the world am I doing here?
Why do I stay?
In light of the drama surrounding the recent Mother’s Day Second Line Parade tragedy, I bet I’m not the only one asking these questions today. Friends from upstate New York to the West Coast heard about this one, and they are all asking me these same questions.
When I think about what makes living in NOLA worthwhile, I think about the feeling of HOME and all it means like extended family, friends, the old and colorful history of the entire area, friendly people and the food…oh, the food. They all blend together in that wonderful gumbo garnished with the music, parades, festivals. We seem to have it all.
Until…the gunshots pop. Again and again.
It’s becoming increasingly harder each day to shove thoughts of leaving to the back of my mind, putting off a final decision. I am fatigued, exhausted even, and feeling all too exposed and vulnerable to the dangers all around. Every decision I make…where to do the groceries, when and where to walk the dog, where to ride my bike or drive my car, even which yoga class to take (daytime? nighttime?)…is measured on a scale of hazards to negotiate.
My social life is limited to daytime hours only and venues close to home. I’m afraid the list of reasons to leave is growing exponentially, while the list of reasons to stay remains woefully short. The crime itself is enough to get me thinking, but when you throw into the mix the remaining wreckage from Katrina, the still crumbling infrastructure of bad streets and no lighting, high taxes that seem to get us less for our money rather than more and public officials who pocket the money instead of applying it where it is so badly needed…who lives like this?
I’ve never been a victim of outright violence unless you count the anxiety attacks I get every night watching the news and listening to the litany of crimes committed in the last 24 hours. I mute the volume in self-defense.
My attitude about all of this violence has changed over time. I used to be resilient enough to shake it off and tell myself that these things happen everywhere. There’s no real place to flee that is free from it. But that’s nonsense.
Make no mistake about it. These violent crimes do NOT happen everywhere. The sheer number of murders, carjackings, brutal assaults…DO NOT HAPPEN EVERYWHERE. We only tell ourselves they do so we can give ourselves permission to let someone else deal with the problem.
As the saying goes…if you aren’t part of the solution, then you must be part of the problem.
Part of the problem.
If you aren’t speaking out in some way, if you aren’t raising your voice above the noise of the criminal element, then you need to think about whether you might not be contributing in some small way to the problem. Your particular voice needs to be heard because it might be the one that makes a difference.
Talk to your public officials, and if they don’t listen speak out again in the voting booth when you vote in new officials that will listen…and act.
Talk to your neighbors about what is going on in your neighborhood.
Where are your children and what are they doing? Are the children in your neighborhood being nurtured, educated and guided down a responsible path? Are they on the streets and part of the problem?
Make a commitment to help law enforcement to clean up your environment. Change the criminal culture of your community by doing all the things that you personally can do, one small act at a time, to rid our streets of crime. It all starts right in your own family, your own house, your own front yard.
Every day I look out into my own front yard. Two 25-foot oak trees that my children planted from acorns when they were just toddlers digging with their little plastic shovels flank the corners of the yard. The tree roots are deep and strong in the New Orleans dirt.
So are mine.
Native New Orleanian and writer Eleanor Keller contributed this column to Voices on Violence: Conversations about life in New Orleans. This NolaVie/WWNO series features individual interviews with the city’s residents. If you would like to be interviewed, or to comment on the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.